Understanding what an IoT platform is


Global spending on Internet of Things (IoT) technology is expected to top $1.1 trillion by 2023. Despite the complexities associated with managing the environment, it is well worth the risk. In fact, 23% of European IoT adopters cite improving their security posture as the main reason for adopting IoT. However, it is something even non-technology-focused businesses can benefit from. Whether you are a food delivery services provider or a clothing retailer, IoT can unlock significant growth opportunities.

In an increasingly mobile-first, digitally driven global economy, IoT platforms are becoming commonplace. But what is an IoT platform and what makes one better than the other? Terms like SaaS and PaaS are being thrown around without a real understanding of what they encompass. Many organisations we have been dealing with ask whether they can build their own infrastructure and IoT platforms or if they even should attempt it.

So, let us first examine these questions one by one. In this, the first in a series of articles where we examine the importance of IoT platforms and infrastructures, the focus is on what they are and how to identify whether your organisation requires them.

What is an IoT platform?

Generally, IoT platforms focus on one of the foundations that make up the technology: connectivity management, device management, mobile device management, and other digital services.

There are thousands of articles that define IoT. But it all comes down to how IoT is centred around the communication and interconnection of ‘things.’ Essentially, any ‘thing’ (device or asset) is something that connects to a network. IoT, being a collective of multiple things, typically involves a plethora of physical objects talking to one another through networks. Cloud-based management platforms have emerged as a new wave of business plug-and-play IoT solutions. They enable visibility, management, and control of specific elements associated with an IoT deployment.

Understanding the IoT environment and its components

Of course, each layer of IoT comes with its own set of challenges. These typically require specialists, high capital investment, and more than a handful of administrative hurdles. There is also sure to be a fair amount of trial and error when it comes to designing, testing, launching, and scaling an IoT solution, let alone building a management platform.

Usually, specialist IoT platforms are built solely for connectivity, device management, or mobile device management. Not all business cases require a combination of device, connectivity, and mobile device management. However, some service providers do offer integrated systems that cover all three of these components.

There are several common features found on virtually any IoT platform. These include the digital services that run in the cloud to which the physical devices connect.

The firmware that runs on IoT devices is also critical to enable communication with digital services. As part of this, companies can send firmware updates to the devices through the cloud to ensure the devices continually evolve with new functionality and features as required by the business. Alternatively, businesses are faced with manually updating the devices’ firmware by pulling devices out of the field (resulting in downtime and an increase in operational costs). Furthermore, they could leave devices on stagnant firmware, which leads to security risks or compatibility issues with other applications that rely on the critical transmission of data from these devices. It is therefore essential to have tools and infrastructure in place to update the device firmware over-the-air (FOTA).

Central to the success of any IoT platform is the framework or infrastructure for data transmission and remote access to control devices. This facilitates how the components interact with one another. Without this in place, the platform will merely be a set of disparate systems not communicating and integrating with one another. Furthermore, interoperability is an important characteristic of a successful IoT platform. This means that businesses and service providers need to build IoT systems, platforms and solutions that are able to adapt to the ever-evolving technological landscape. Businesses simply cannot risk building (or buying) a ‘future-proof’ IoT solution that is built on siloed legacy infrastructure.

Along with interoperability, businesses require complete visibility of their IoT estate. This is where web-based dashboards and other visualisation tools can provide an overview of the state of devices as well as how they interact and engage with one another.

In the next article, we will dive into which business cases require a platform as a service (PaaS) or software as a service (SaaS) and the relative differences in their application.

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